Tag Archives: humility

February 4, 2018: There’s Helping and Helping, I

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When I was young and my beard was russet, I was trained to work effectively with people with disabilities. Openness and respect for other persons are fundamental, but so are analytical skills; skills that have to be learnt. As we read on June 19th, Maria Montessori saw a child as wanting to help himself, to co-operate with his parents in growing up, and ‘When he has satisfied the need to help himself he will let the adult help.’ I had to learn to be a parent, too.

There’s something of that determined resilience in all of us, very healthy too. Here is an occasion when the desire to help was channelled to success through disciplined reflection.

A blind man was walking with his long white stick outside the railway station as I went to buy a newspaper; he was still there, walking in the opposite direction, when I came out. He told the two of us who stopped to help that he wanted to ‘find his way into the station. No, don’t take me in. I’ll get there.’

But he accepted directions. With his back to the traffic he was facing the building but some distance from it. ‘Turn right, walk 4 yards, feel the gravel … find the paving stones with the raised bumps … straight ahead …’ Then something I’d not noticed before, the dull echo of our voices from the station building. Now he knew where he was, helped but not over-helped.

That dull echo might help me one day …

Let’s pray for the humility to ask for and accept help when we needed, and for the wisdom to know when not to overwhelm someone with our help. One blind acquaintance told about being helped across the road, ‘And now, please help me back across the road. I didn’t want to cross over at all!’

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January 29, Aberdaron VII: the beginning

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We continue reading the guide to Saint Hywyn’s Church. It is sobering to sit in Canterbury and read that this church dates from the first half of the sixth century. Pope Gregory only sent Augustine to Kent in 597!

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January 2, 2018; Father Andrew at Christmas, X: Godhead here in hiding, whom I do adore.

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Mary Mother from Hales Place Jesuit Chapel, Canterbury

Our last reading from Father Andrew this Christmastime.

Adoro Te Devote Latens Deitas

Who could refuse the appeal
Of Baby hands stretched out caressingly,
Or patter of Baby feet upon the stair?
It was like Love to deal
So with us in His sweet humility,
To be a little Child amongst us here;
And at the last, when those same hands had borne
The scars of labour and the pierce of sin,
Faithful at eventide as in the morn
Of His first Coming, still to seek to win,
With bleeding hands held wide in mute appeal,
The acceptance of His own unchanging love.

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December 18. Zechariah, an Unlikely Advent Star, V.

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The angel replied, “I am Gabriel who stand in God’s presence, and I have been sent to speak to you and bring you this good news (1:19).

When I read of the angel’s reply to Zechariah’s disbelief and perplexity, I do not hear a rebuke in his words, as some interpreters have done. I hear reassurance. First, the angel tells Zechariah his name. His name is Gabriel. In the bible, to know the name of another being is highly significant: the name gives the other a sort of power over the one whose name is disclosed. God refuses to tell Moses his name in order not to give Moses power over him. He refers to himself only as I AM. But here, Gabriel allows Zechariah to know not only who he is but also what he does: he “stands in the presence of God.” He, furthermore, is God’s messenger: “I have been sent to speak to you….”

I can imagine Gabriel emphasising the words “sent” and “you,” as if to respond to Zechariah’s doubts about the angel somehow getting him mixed up with another and younger man. Gabriel tells him that there is no muddle. He is obeying what Almighty God has commanded. He has the right address, and knows exactly who Zechariah is, and how old. Zechariah is emphatically the right man.

And what is the purpose of this angelic visitation? Its purpose is to bring Zechariah this good news. Perhaps Gabriel emphasises the word “good” here, to assure Zechariah that, despite his confusion and doubt, this is not a tragedy. This news is good! Gabriel’s words might be paraphrased as: ‘Zechariah, you are not Job! This is a New Beginning for all humanity, and you have been chosen to play a leading role. You will be the father of the one who will prepare the way of the Lord! The new stage in salvation history is now starting, and you and Elizabeth will be instrumental in an event of truly cosmic proportions.

My own feeling here is one of great affection for Zechariah. Surely, Gabriel cannot be displeased with this humble man. He just needs time to take in the message.

Sometimes I need time, too. Do I allow myself time when I need it? Or am I hard on myself when I cannot immediately understand what God seems to be asking of me? Or, worse, am I hard on God? Do I turn away from God in frustration when his message seems incomprehensible to me? Sometimes I need to wait and pray. Do I?

SJC

This Cornish Angel carries the name of a parishioner, inviting our prayers.

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November 25: Jesus Beyond Dogma II: xxv – Final Journey

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It is important that Jesus’ death be seen not just as an isolated, individual event, but the death of religious system. The time had come to set people free to worship in spirit and in truth. The significance of riding the donkey mustn’t be lost – this kind of king doesn’t ride horses! A king riding on a donkey was a step too far for the imperial set-up. Kingship now belongs to ordinary folk who ride on donkeys every day.

It was a similar story with the Temple, when he overturned the money-lenders tables. But as this was Passover the military was on hand and he was arrested and removed. The real meaning is Jesus’ life, not his death. It was his way of living that was found to be too provocative. By the time of Calvary it was far too late – the new way was already here, the seeds sown were seed of new life, not death.

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But there was a hesitant period – after his death it was a bit touch and go, the survival of the new way hung in the balance; even those who were with him fled – good men, but when the going got tough… Thank God for the good women – they stayed, right to the end. They came to anoint his body when the Sabbath ritual allowed it, and found the empty tomb. Interesting that Mary Magdalene’s recognition had nothing to do with expressing belief in the Resurrection. It was simply the plain fact that nobody but him spoke her name like that. Where his earthly dwelling ended, his enduring Spirit took over. Yes, he was gone – yet they knew he was alive; alive in a seemingly more real way than before. This was enough to bring back the faint-hearted.

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November 15: Jesus Beyond Dogma II: xv – ‘What now?’

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What has happened thus far is following the maxim: the whole equals the sum total of the parts – whereas the whole is greater than the sum of the parts. The implications: the fixed character of reality gives way to a fluid flowing, driven by energies of which we know nothing, which we cannot control. Rational argument doesn’t work anymore – cause and effect do not work as we presumed they did. Creation is relationally friendly. Quantum vision can be summarised: Creation manifests itself; energy exists; time begins; space expands; events are uncertain; only probabilities can be measured; cause and effect are fluid; birth and death happen at the speed of light; information is to be found in energy.

No room here for power-over, only power with. Power games are alien to life. Thirst for control makes no sense, where everything exercises its own sense of control – everything is out of our control. We live in a self-organising universe, which calls for humility on our part, to submit our plans to the greater wisdom of Creation.

How do we see Jesus in this context? Maybe Saint Paul can help: So, from now on we regard no one from a worldly point of view. Though we once regarded Christ in this way, we do so no longer. Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: the old has gone the new is here… 2Corinthians 5.16.

Paul is inviting us to regard Jesus differently from the prevailing norms. Christ’s coming has changed all this. All the great religions grapple with our relationship with the divine – but the desire for power gets in the way. The understanding of God as relationship is the oldest humanity has ever known – and from this issue notions of Trinity. Christian history has seen Trinity from a mathematical angle in which the individuality of the persons became more significant than their relatedness. Jesus seen as closer to the Father than to the Spirit – though New Testament has nothing of this.

Jesus belongs to the realm where the whole is greater than the sum total of the parts; he belongs to the whole Creation – he is the primary expression of divine creativity. How Jesus differs from Father and Spirit could well be a meaningless question. The need for a difference is a human patriarchal need, which gets in the way of our befriending God in a Creation-wide way.

AMcC

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19 July: G is for Valley Gardens

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Since I was small, I had always loved gardening, so when the chance came of a holiday job at the parks in Castleford, I seized it. The town council took a pride in their parks, lung-savers in an industrial landscape. As well as the mines there were glassworks, a  factory producing chemicals such as wood preservers, a coke oven and a maltings: the least offensive smell. In a heat wave the fumes gathered in the valley where the town was built on the ford. The rivers ran black. Breathing was a challenge.

Valley Gardens was our nearest park: a good park with a crown bowling green, playground for the children, lawns and lots of traditional bedding, the plants grown in the council’s own nursery. There was also raised bedding with scented plants for blind people to enjoy. And so they did.

I’m ever grateful for the skills learnt at Valley Gardens but also for the attitude to work imbibed from the older guys I worked alongside. Many had been miners and knew how to pace themselves to be productive over the whole day. They were also humble enough to put themselves through the City and Guilds Certificate training: men who knew how to handle tools, being ‘taught’ how to dig or prune before taking on specialised skills such as caring for the greens.

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Recently I read that Valley Gardens, for many years the responsibility of Wakefield City council, is run-down and the play area no longer safe. A committee has been formed to revive this park. When I was there, people knew the decision makers in town. Now they are in Wakefield and need never go near Valley Gardens.

I hope the committee is supported by the community and Wakefield council so that the gardens return to their former glory.

There are parallels in church life. We need to trust people, even  those who shun responsibilities, with a mission they may fail at. Apart from Joseph of Arimathea and Nicodemus, who were members of the Sanhedrin, Jesus chose women and misfits for his first generation of leaders. I don’t recall his disciples sitting exams.

Since writing this post I read an article describing how the people who use the parks the most are poorer people, people without gardens of their own. So it is poor people who take the brunt of government spending cuts in this area of life, as in so many others.

Our beds were every bit as lovely – and more so – than this semiformal planting in Berlin’s Charlottenberg Park. The Roses were a feature of Valley Gardens: the older gardeners taught me how to prune them. This is ‘Mermaid’, who needs very careful handling with her vicious thorns. But she’s lovely!

 

 

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9 July: God favours the humble

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Sculpture at the Visitation Convent in the Holy Land, NAIB

We start the week with a welcome reflection from the Franciscan Missionary Sisters of Littlehampton. Sister Clare, the intrepid parachute jumper, is now their Superior General, but found time to get this post to the editors. Thank you Clare!       Will T.

Zechariah 9:9-10 Matthew 11:25-30.

‘Among the pagans, their rulers Lord it over them and their great men make their authority felt.’ (Luke 22:24-25)

By contrast, truly humble people like Jesus seek the good of others, not their own power, status and comfort. Only when such a person becomes a leader is there true joy among the people. They know (s)he understands their struggles and is on their side. A humble leader, who takes on the role only to promote the good of the people, brings real hope of a better life to all together with a sense of community pride and gratitude.

Humble people do not need to reinforce or elevate their own importance. They speak the truth respectfully and consistently, even if no-one pays attention. God favours such people whom Jesus calls ‘the poor in spirit’. If they are poor, voiceless, powerless and marginalised in society, God the Father will choose to reveal His truth to them rather than the powerful, celebrated and accomplished. He will make them His messengers and instruments in the world. Both the Magnificat of Mary and Jesus’ ‘manifesto’, the Beatitudes, assure us of this.

Although humble leaders seem scarce in today’s world, Christ is the King whom Christians really serve while obeying earthly authority in everything that is right.

No worldy ruler has power to compel us because our service is freely given out of love for our true leader. His yoke feels easy and His burden, light because His is an authority we can rejoice to live under.

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Left to right: Sisters Susan, Esther, Elizabeth, Marcellina, Patricia and Clare FMSL

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June 5: The Virtue of Justice I:Prudence Revisited.

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Over to Sister Johanna for her reflections on the second Cardinal Virtue: Justice.

The cardinal virtues come in a famous pack of four: prudence, justice, fortitude and temperance. We looked at prudence in some of our previous posts. I thought it time now to move to the moral virtue that is next in line: justice.

If you weren’t here for the posts on prudence, then it might help briefly to revisit them: they began on 24th April, and can be found at this link.

Prudence has a lot to do with seeing reality as it is, not as we would like it to be. It is also to do with being able to plot out a course of action which takes that reality into account. A prudent person is a great one to have as a confidant, it seems to me. He or she will ask you a lot of questions and help you to arrive peacefully at a decision – which, in the end, will still be your decision, because the questions and answers that prudence considers do not force you into anything. Rather, they reveal a path by clearing away the weeds, and so enable you freely to walk down that path, and own the decision. The words of great twentieth century Catholic philosopher, Josef Pieper,* can be enlightening. He says:

Prudence has a double aspect. One side is concerned with gathering knowledge, with establishing a yardstick, and is directed toward reality; the other side is concerned with decision and command, with evaluation, and is directed toward action.

I love the idea that prudence is about gathering the knowledge that enables us to understand reality. Behind this is the humble acknowledgement that as fallen creatures, our view of things is apt to be distorted. Prudence is about opening our eyes to the truth of things and situations, so that our subsequent decisions and actions will be directed toward that same truth and goodness. ‘Prudence translates the truth of real things into the goodness of human activity…. Thus prudence does not simply rank first in the scale of cardinal virtues, it actually is the “mother of virtues.” And “gives birth” to the others’ (Pieper).

SJC

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27 May: Humour in humility.

 

I was reading the obituary of Bishop Douglas Milmine, the first Anglican Bishop of Paraguay, and of late an honorary assistant Bishop in Chichester. A remarkable man of God.

He had a favourite prayer which would have tickled the Lord as much as it tickled himself: ‘Lord, make me humble for you know how important I am.’

Is that the Publican or the Pharisee or the funny man speaking? Which of the three would write a memoir called ‘Stiff Upper Smile? The prayer is a hearty laugh at himself, and God bless him for sharing it and for all the good he did in his life.

MMB.

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